Dr. NEIL A FRANKEL's

THE ATLANTIC SLAVE TRADE AND SLAVERY IN AMERICA

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  Links to images available on the internet are provided in section SOURCES AND SELECTED LINKS.

  Please observe usage and copyright restrictions for these images. A small sampling of available

  images is provided here.

  (Click on the images to view a larger version)
  ● Africa During the Slave Trade
  ● Slave Castles in Africa
  ● Scenes of Slavery in America
  ● Civil War and Freedom

 

Africa During the Slave Trade

When the Portuguese began exploring the west coast of Africa, captain Dinis Dias came upon the Senegal River in 1444, the first great tropical river to be found by the Europeans, and by far the biggest that the Portuguese had encountered since leaving the Mediterranean. On the north bank of the river was the territory of the Azanaghi, a brown-skinned people, small and lean, of the Muslim faith. On the south bank the land was more fertile, covered with trees, and the people were black-skinned, tall and solidly built, belonging to the Wolof and Serer tribes. Farther south, Dias came upon a place, just north of Gorée island, where the coastline extended out far into the ocean. He named it Cabo Verde (12).

Africa consisted of a number of territories, many of them tribal regions. Each region had a form of government, religious beliefs, and traditions. Most had established some type of agriculture for food production. Occasionally, tribal wars would occur, and captives were taken as slaves. When the Europeans began trading for slaves, some of the tribes would war on other tribes or raid their villages with the objective of capturing slaves that could be bartered for European goods, including cloth, guns, gunpowder and horses.

     
 

Male Circumcision Ceremony, West Africa, 1728 (1)


Procession, including warriors with spears, musicians with drums, and houses in the background.


Muslim tribes in Northern and Western Africa performed circumcision for religious reasons. Elsewhere it was often considered a rite of passage into manhood. Circumcision ceremonies varied among the different tribes, but had much in common. A description of the Xhosa ceremony is given in   (4).


 

 

 

 

 

Mandingo Slave Traders and Coffle, Senegal, 1780's (1)


Six African male slaves with two armed traders. The restraints consist of heavy pieces of wood, about 5 feet long, forked at one end. The fork fits around a slave's neck, and is secured with a large iron bolt that fits through holes drilled in the ends of the fork. Each slave carries on his shoulder the handle of the forked wood securing the slave behind him. The slaves are marched in single file in this fashion. Five or six armed traders could in this way transport as many as 50 slaves over great distances.


Black African or mulatto slave traders were called slatees. After selling slaves, ivory and gold to the Europeans at the coast in exchange for guns, ammunition, cloth and metal goods, they would return to the interior to procure additional slaves. In the novel Roots, by Alex Haley, the black collaborators who helped in the kidnapping of his ancestor, Kunta Kinte, were referred to as slatees. (5)


 

 

 

 
 
 
 

Gezo, King of Dahomey, 1849  (1)


King in regalia with one of his retainers holding umbrella.


In 1823 King Gezo liberated Dahomey from its subjection to the kingdom of Oyo, defeating them in battle. Today, Dahomey is known as Benin, where the largest ethnic group is the Fon tribe and closely related Adja and Ewe tribes. Oyo was located in what is now western Nigeria and its people belong to the Yoruba tribe.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, Dahomey was a major supplier of slaves to the Atlantic slave trade.


 

Yam Ceremony, Ashanti, 1817 (1)


Procession, King's retainers, and onlookers are shown at the annual yam ceremony, held just before the harvest. On the right, the King is seated under the state umbrella, with an elephant on top. The flags of Britain, Holland and Denmark are to the right and left of the throne.


Many tribes in West Africa have a yearly yam harvest festival. In the Igbo tradition (southeast Nigeria), newly harvested yams are offered to gods and dead ancestors before distributing them to villagers. This offering is made by the eldest male of the community or the king, who then eats the first yam of the harvest. The festival gives thanks to the spirits and gods who have helped achieve a plentiful harvest, important to the Igbo because yams represent life and survival. Yams from the previous year are disposed of to make room for the new crop.


 

 

  

 

     
 

Soldier Mounted on Horse, Senegal, 1780's  (1)


Horseman with spear, bow, and quiver of arrows.


In 1758 French forts and trading stations on the Senegal and Gambia Rivers, and the island of Gorée in West Africa, fell to small British naval expeditions. The Spanish entered the war in 1762 in support of the French, promptly losing Cuba and the Philippines after British naval squadrons and landing forces captured Havana and Manila. From 1750 to 1800 the British became the leading nation in the Atlantic slave trade in terms of numbers of slaves transported to the New World, followed by Portugal and France. (6)


 

Madagascar Women, Showing Hair Styles, 1850's (1)


Betsimisaraka mother and child on the left, and Hova woman on the right.


Women of the Hova tribe wear their hair in fine braids, tied in a number of small knots all over the head. Hova are relatively fair in complexion and are believed to have appreciable Malay-Indonesian ancestry.

The Betsimisaraka women wear their hair braided for two or three inches, and then arranged in a ball, two or three hanging down on each side.


 

 

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Slave Castles in Africa

Slave trading forts or castles were built by the Europeans along the coast of Africa, and sometimes on islands off the coast. At Cape Coast Castle, under British control, the fort housed the governor-in-chief, the director-general, the factors, clerks, and mechanics, as well as the soldiers. There were magazines, warehouses, storehouses, granaries, guard rooms, and two large water tanks, or cisterns, built of English brick and local mortar. Slave holds were established to confine a thousand to fifteen hundred captives in the lower level. There were also vaults for rum, workshops for smiths, armorers, and carpenters. The fort was guarded by seventy-six cannon and there was, in the armory, a substantial quantity of small arms, soldiers' coats, blunderbusses, buccaneer guns, pistols, cartridge cases, swords and cutlasses. There were gardens capable of producing plantains, bananas, pineapples, potatoes, yams, maize, cauliflowers, and cabbages. Walks were planted with orange trees, limes and coconut palms. There was also a chapel (12).

 

     
 

Cape Coast Castle, Inner Courtyard, Ghana, 1986 (1)

 

Cape Coast Castle, Door of No Return (2)

 
 

Most historians believe that Cape Coast Castle was originally built as a small trading lodge which was subsequently added to and enlarged until it became a fortification. In 1637 the lodge was occupied by the Dutch. Then, in 1652, it was captured by the Swedes, who named it Fort Carolusburg. For a time, both the local people and various European powers fought for and gained possession of the fort. Finally, in 1664, after a four-day battle, the fort was captured by the British and re-named Cape Coast Castle. The Castle served as the seat of the British administration in the then Gold Coast (Ghana) until the administration was moved to Christianborg Castle in Accra on March 19, 1877.

Slaves were kept at Cape Coast Castle in dungeons while awaiting transport to the New World. Around 1000 male slaves and 500 female slaves occupied the castle at any one time in separate dungeons. Each slave would be locked up for 6 to 12 weeks, waiting for their turn to board one of the ships. The dungeons must have been unbearable with hundreds of slaves crammed in together and no toilet facilities. There were only a few windows to let in fresh air, and a channel down the middle to carry away urine and feces which completely covered the floor of the dungeons.

The nearby Elmina Castle, also a major European slave trade fort, was established 155 years earlier than Cape Coast Castle. The Portuguese built the castle of São Jorge da Mina in 1482, in a region rich in gold and ivory resources. Da Mina means 'of the mine' in Portuguese. The Castle is one of West Africa's oldest standing buildings; it was the first permanent structure south of the Sahara built by the Europeans.


 

When the ships arrived at Cape Coast Castle, the slaves would be chained and taken through the 'door of no return' leading to the waterfront. The slaves had little idea what would happen to them; some believed that they were being transported to another land where they would be eaten by the white men. Many of them (10-15%, or more) would die of infections or illness during the sea voyage, which typically lasted five to eight weeks with good winds and calm seas, or sometimes up to three months with unfavorable weather. The men were packed into the ships' holds in very tight quarters with no toilet facilities, chained together, and infrequently would be allowed to come up to the top deck to get some air and exercise. The women were often allowed more freedom to move about the ship, where they were subjected to sexual abuse by the crew.


 

 

 

     
 

Door of No Return, Gorée Island Slave House, Senegal  (7)

 

Gorée Island, La Maison des Esclaves (Slave House), Senegal (8)

 
 

Just to the south of Cape Verde, 3 km from the Senegalese coast, is the island of Gorée with two forts; Fort Saint-Michel and Fort Vermandois (later Saint-Francois). It was favored by slave ship captains because of the availability of water from good wells and food for the slaves, and many slave traders. The number of slaves housed on the island in basement rooms is uncertain - possibly as many as 1200.

The door of no return at the slave house is a popular tourist attraction.


 

The Portuguese explorer Dias was the first European to discover Gorée Island in 1444. The shipping of slaves from Gorée began in 1536, by the Portuguese, and ended 312 years later in 1848 with the abolition of the slave trade in France. The Dutch seized the island in 1617, and built a fort. The Portuguese took it back, and then lost it to the Dutch, who refortified it in 1647. The English and Dutch fought over it for awhile, until the French took it and held it for most of the duration. The name Gorée came from the French, meaning 'good harbor.'  La Maison des Esclaves (the slave house) was built in 1780. The slaves were kept in the lower level.

In 1978 UNESCO designated Gorée as a World Heritage site.


 

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Scenes of Slavery in America

Selected images of slavery in America, and of some of the heroic people who risked their freedom and their lives to help slaves to escape to the North and to Canada on the Underground Railroad.

 

     
 

Slave Auction in the South, 1861 (3)

 

Preparing Cotton for the Gin at Smith's Plantation, 1862 (3)

 
 

African American men, women and children being auctioned off in front of a crowd of men. From an original sketch by Theodore R. Davis, appeared in Harper's weekly, v. 5, no 237, 1861 July 13, p. 442.

The Civil War began on April 12th of that year. The following report appeared in the April 20th, 1861 issue of Harper's Weekly:  "On Friday, 12th, at 27 minutes past 4 A. M., General Beauregard, in accordance with instructions received on Wednesday from the Secretary of War of the Southern Confederacy, opened fire upon Fort Sumter."....."The damage done to Fort Sumter is stated by the Confederate authorities to have been considerable. Guns had been dismounted, and a part of the parapet swept away. "


 

In this scene African Americans are shown preparing cotton for the gin at Smith's Plantation in Port Royal, South Carolina. From a collection of photographs of the Federal Navy, and seaborne expeditions against the Atlantic Coast of the Confederacy, compiled by Hirst D. Milhollen and Donald H. Mugridge, Washington, D.C., Library of Congress, 1977. No. 0587


 

 

 

     
 

Auction and Negro Sales, Whitehall Street, Atlanta, 1864 (3)

 

Slave Pen, Alexandria Virginia, 1861-5 (3)

 
 

Commercial street in Atlanta showing at the center of this photo a business entitled 'Auction and Negro Sales;' to the right, 'Atlanta Cigar Manufactory;' to the left, 'F. Geutebruck Tobacco;' and above, 'China, Glass & Queensware.' A higher resolution image shows another shop to the right of 'Atlanta Cigar Manufactury,' with the sign 'Cigars and Tobacco, Wholesale and Retail.' To the left of Geutebruck's is a store with a sign, the right portion of which is 'LBERT.' According to an article in the Southern Confederacy newspaper published in Atlanta between March 4, 1861 and May 23, 1863 (86), F. Geutebruck was an 'Importer & Manufacturer of Havana and American Cigars, Dealer in Lorillard's Maccaboy and Scotch Snuff, Smoking and Chewing Tobacco, Pipes, &c.' Geutebruck's store was described as '...on Whitehall street, between Ripley's Crockery and Gilbert's Jewelry store.' The date of the article was August 1, 1862.

From a collection of photographs of Sherman in Atlanta, September-November, 1864. After three and a half months of incessant maneuvering and much hard fighting, Sherman forced Hood to abandon the munitions center of the Confederacy. Sherman remained there, resting his war-worn men and accumulating supplies, for nearly two and a half months. During the occupation, George N. Barnard, official photographer of the Chief Engineer's Office, made the best documentary record of the war in the West; but much of what he photographed was destroyed in the fire that spread from the military facilities blown up at Sherman's departure on November 15th.


 

Interior view of a slave pen in Alexandria Virginia. Shows doorway with barred gate open to the courtyard, and pens visible to the right. Two of the six pen doors are open. From the Civil War Photograph Collection, Library of Congress, No. 2297.

After Congress banned the importation of slaves from Africa in 1808, the sale and transport of slaves already in America continued. In response to demand for slaves in Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia and the West for the cultivation of cotton and sugar, slave traders traveled north to Virginia, North Carolina and other states to purchase slaves for auction in the deep South and the West. Slaves were held in pens awaiting sale or auction, and during their transport.


 
 

 

     
 

Slaves for Sale, Newspaper Advertisement from 1780's  (3)

 

Slave Restraint Devices, 1807  (3)

 
 

Photograph of newspaper advertisement from the 1780's for the sale of slaves at Ashley Ferry outside of Charleston, South Carolina.

"To be sold, on board the ship Bance Island .....  about 250 fine healthy negroes, just arrived from the Windward & Rice Coast."

The ad goes on to say that the utmost care has been taken to keep the slaves from being infected with small pox, and "all other communication with people from CharlesTown prevented."  A smallpox epidemic in Charleston in 1760 was one of the worst in the colonial period. In a population of about 8000, there were an estimated 6000 cases and over 730 deaths, or 9% of the population. It was not until 1796 that Edward Jenner demonstrated that cowpox vaccination could protect people against smallpox more safely than live smallpox vaccination. (9)


 

Iron Mask, Collar, Leg Shackles and Spurs Used to Restrain Slaves. Illustration in The Penitential Tyrant / Thomas Branagan, New York. Printed by Samuel Wood, no. 362, Pearl Street, 1807


 

 

     
 

Harriet Tubman, About 1850-1900,  (3)

 

The Underground Railroad, 1891 Oil Painting (23)

 
 

Photograph by H. B. Lindsley. Date unknown, however the date range is believed to be 1850-1900. Ms Tubman's first marriage was in 1844, when she was 25.

Harriet Tubman was born a slave on Maryland's eastern shore. She escaped to the North in 1849 and became a free woman, living in Philadelphia. In 1850, she made her first return trip to the South to guide her niece and two children to freedom. Between 1850 and the start of the Civil War, she made 19 trips to the South to bring over 300 escaped slaves to freedom in the North and Canada. She had become the most famous 'conductor' on the Underground Railroad, and there was a bounty on her head. She was wanted, dead or alive. It was perilous work, traveling from safe house to safe house, meeting up with local guides along the way. If she had been caught, she would have been enslaved again, or possibly killed.  (22)

The Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 had a major impact on the Underground Railroad. Federal marshals were required to arrest runaway slaves and return them to their owners, or else pay a fine of $1000. Any person aiding a runaway slave by providing food or shelter was subject to six months' imprisonment and a $1000 fine. There was no provision for a jury trial, all that was needed was a claimant's sworn testimony of ownership of the alleged runaway slave. Because of this law, even the journey through the North with escaped slaves had become a perilous one, and the runaway slaves had to be brought all the way to Canada to be free from the risk of re-capture.


 

Scene from the Underground Railroad. Painted by American artist Charles T. Webber, dated December 22, 1891. Cincinnati Art Museum collection. Accession number 1927.26. Copyright Cincinnati Art Museum.

Charles T. Webber painted The Underground Railroad for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. It celebrates abolitionists' efforts to end slavery. Levi Coffin, his wife Catharine, and Hannah Haddock, all friends of the artist, are shown leading a group of fugitive slaves to freedom on a winter morning. The setting of The Underground Railroad is possibly the Coffin farm in Cincinnati. (24)

Levi Coffin, a Quaker, was born in 1798 on a farm in New Garden, North Carolina. After marrying Catharine White, he moved to Newport, Indiana, where he became a successful businessman and was heavily involved in the Underground Railroad. More than 2000 escaping slaves were sheltered at his home during the 20 years he lived in Indiana. The house is now a registered National Historic Landmark, the Levi Coffin House State Historic Site in Fountain City, Indiana.

In 1847 the Coffins moved to Cincinnati to open a wholesale warehouse business. They helped another 1300 slaves to escape via the Underground Railroad while living there. (85)


 

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Civil War and Freedom

Slavery was one of the issues leading to the Civil War, but not the only one:

  • States Rights vs. Federal Rights: There were differences over states rights vs. federal rights. After the constitution was ratified in 1788, some of the states rights advocates put forth the idea of 'nullification,'  that states could ignore or nullify any federal laws that they disagreed with. South Carolina passed nullification legislation, angry about the Tariff of 1828 imposed on imports of manufactured goods from Europe. The result of the tariff was to reduce the demand for European goods, thereby reducing European purchases of cotton grown in the South. When nullification was strongly opposed by President Andrew Jackson and by Congress in 1832-3, and not formally supported by any other Southern state, many of the proponents began to argue for secession.

  • Economic and Social Differences: There were economic and social differences. The South was largely agricultural, and the invention of the cotton gin (patented by Eli Whitney in 1794) led to a large increase in cotton farming. The South was becoming a one crop economy, utilizing increasing amounts of slave labor. In the North, industry was thriving in the cities, and sufficient labor was available from a growing population and a steady flow of immigrants.

  • The Dred Scott Decision: The Dred Scott decision clearly defined how wide the gap was between the North and the South with respect to slavery and equal rights. Dred Scott, a slave, had been taken by his owner from the slave state of Missouri to the Wisconsin Territory, where Congress prohibited slavery under the Missouri Compromise of 1820. He was also taken to Illinois, which was a free state at the time. He later sued, contending that he should be considered a free man given that he had been taken to places where slavery was prohibited. After several lower court decisions and appeals, the Supreme Court in a 7-2 decision ruled that the Missouri Compromise was unconstitutional, because Congress lacked the power to ban slavery in the territories. The ruling went on to declare that African Americans could never be citizens of the United States, because blacks "are not included, and were not intended to be included, under the word 'citizens' in the U.S. Constitution, and can therefore claim none of the rights and privileges which the instrument provides and secures to citizens of the United States. On the contrary, they were at that time [1787-88] considered as a subordinate and inferior class of beings who had been subjugated by the dominant race, and, whether emancipated or not, yet remained subject to their authority, and had no rights or privileges but such as those who held the power and Government might choose to grant them." Declaring that Dred Scott could not be considered a citizen meant that he lacked the rights provided for in the Constitution to bring suit against a citizen of another state in federal court. (42), (45), (46)

  • Election of Abraham Lincoln: The election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 was a precipitating event. The South believed him to be against slavery and allied with Northern interests. Lincoln had attacked the Dred Scott decision in debates with Stephen A. Douglas when he ran for the Senate in Illinois in 1858, and again when he ran for President in 1860. South Carolina wasted no time after Lincoln was elected President on November 6, 1860, seceding from the Union on December 20. Five more states followed by January 1861 (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi), and Texas seceded on March 2. The Confederate States of America was formed in February, 1861, with Jefferson Davis as President. After the attack on Fort Sumter in April, 1861, four additional states joined the Confederacy (Arkansas, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia). Four other slave states remained in the Union (Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri). The western part of Virginia adopted an 'ordinance of dismemberment' in August, 1861 to create a new state, and held a referendum in October. The state of West Virginia was admitted to the Union in June,1862.

 

     
 

Frederick Douglass, Date Unknown (3)

 

Sojourner Truth,  1864 (3)

 
 

Library of Congress collection, photo of the famous abolitionist. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-15887. Date unknown, appears to be after 1865.

Born a slave as Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey in Maryland in 1817, he escaped by sea to New York City in 1838 to seek his freedom, changing his name to Douglass. He became well known as an abolitionist, editor, orator, author, statesman, and reformer. After publishing his autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, he fled to England in 1845 to avoid capture, returning in 1847 when a group of British female abolitionists paid $711.86 to buy him his freedom. (22)

Douglass lived and worked in Rochester, New York for most of his public career. His home became an important 'station' on the Underground Railroad.

During the Civil War, Douglass actively recruited black soldiers for the Union side. Lincoln twice invited Douglass to the White House to advise him on issues pertaining to black Americans. Douglass strongly encouraged Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation.

Douglass died in 1895.


 

Library of Congress collection. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-119343. The estimated date of the photo is 1864, when she was 67 years old. The caption reads: "I sell the shadow to support the substance. Sojourner Truth." After gaining her freedom from slavery, Truth became a prominent Christian preacher, abolitionist and women's rights advocate.

Sojourner Truth was born a slave on the Hardenbergh estate in Swartekill, New York in 1797, named Isabella Baumfree. She was sold several times, the last time to John Dumont of New Paltz, New York. She escaped to freedom in late 1826 with her infant daughter Sophia, less than a year before New York State abolished slavery on July 4, 1827. She found her way to the home of Isaac and Maria Van Wagenen, a Quaker family, who purchased her services from Dumont for $20 for the remainder of the year, until the state's emancipation law took effect. (64)

On June 1, 1843, she changed her name to Sojourner Truth and told friends, "The Spirit calls me, and I must go." In May of 1851, she attended the Ohio Women's Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio where she delivered her famous speech, Ain't I a Woman? (The text of her Ain't I a Woman speech is in the Hard to Believe But True! section of this website.)

Truth died in 1883.


 

 

 

     
 

 A Happy Family, 1866 (3)

 

Storming Fort Wagner, 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry (3)

 
 

African American woman with seven children, after the Civil War. Illustration in Harper's Weekly, v. 33, 1866. The illustration caption reads "A Happy Family" (of freed slaves), with a title "Personal Recollections of the War."


 

The 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry was one of the first African-American units in the Union Army to fight in the Civil War. Their best known accomplishment was the assault on Fort Wagner, near Charleston, South Carolina, on July 18, 1863. The assault force was headed by the 54th and included five other brigades, about 5000 men in total. The battle was fierce, and of the six hundred members of the 54th who fought, one hundred and sixteen were killed and another one hundred and fifty six were wounded or captured. Although the fort was not taken at that time, the 54th was widely acclaimed for its valor, proving the value of black soldiers. It spurred additional recruitment that gave the Union Army a further numerical advantage in troops over the Confederacy.  (11).

Sergeant William H. Carney, a son of slaves, was awarded the nation's highest honor, the Congressional Medal of Honor, for bravery beyond the call of duty in the battle of Fort Wagner. He was the first African-American to receive this medal. An account of the Battle of Fort Wagner, in sergeant Carney's own words, is given on the Massachusetts Secretary of State's website (58).


 

 

 

       
 

Group of Contrabands at Foller's House, 1862 (3)

 

 

 
 

Cumberland Landing, Virginia. Photograph from the main eastern theater of the war, The Peninsular Campaign, May-August 1862. James F. Gibson, photographer. From Civil War photographs, 1861-1865, compiled by Hirst D. Milhollen and Donald Mugridge, Washington, D.C. Library of Congress, 1977. No. 0055.

During the war, many slaves abandoned their masters - even those in the border states who were Unionists -  and fled to Union lines. Union Army commanders called these escaped slaves 'contrabands' (captured property). As the number of contrabands grew, President Lincoln proposed a gradual, compensated emancipation of slaves in the border states. In the Emancipation Proclamation, issued after the Northern victory at Antietam in September 1862, Lincoln declared that slaves in all states that remained in rebellion on January 1, 1863, would be "forever free" with some exemptions for border states and territories already captured by the Union army. (10)


     

 

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Last updated:  April 13, 2009      © 2007, 2008 Neil A. Frankel Contact: webmaster